A proud Drew Jordan with the snake charming unicorn himself!
Dustin's Snake Creek Gap Time Trial Report
Hello there ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to the return of Good ol’ MTB Racing and related updates of glory! As many of you may know after the full year of MTB racing in 2017, I tried my hand at a year of triathlons for 2018. Let’s just say I am glad that is done and that I have traded in my running visor to once again put on some magical unicorn socks and take to the trails. For my first race of 2019, I decided to go for Snake Creek Gap TT (SCGTT) redemption. In early 2018 I took on this race for the first time, coming into it with a great level of MTB fitness left over from 2017. However, round 1 was a shock to the system about just how cold the race could be and how truly difficult the terrain is. Round 2 was an utter disappointment that ended with a flat tire while being roughly 20 minutes ahead of my round 1 time. So needless to say, 2019 would definitely start with a tour of vengeance.
For those of you who may not know about the traditional SCGTT course, let me give you my first-hand account in a race report for both the January and February editions simultaneously…a good ol’ A to B comparison. Below I will detail the 5 major sections I believe separate the grueling 34 mile race as a recap of both. Otherwise, it is only important to note that the event is a point to point race so you never cross the same trail twice.
Section 1 – The Climb of Eternity
In this section we begin the race with about 5 second gaps between racers. Every time I have done the event, my race plan is pretty simple…hang with my stud of a friend Chris Lessing and see what happens. Not only is Chris a bad A MTB guru, he has also done this race every year since 2013 so it is safe to say he is most familiar with the trail. In both events this year the timer tells us to start and we quickly group up to take on this first climb. After quickly doing some flat double track flow, you go up…and up….and upper. The climb begins as a long gravel road and then switches to the suck fest of punchy single track littered with softball and basketball sized rocks. We aren’t even close to being into the bad rocks, but these things are just an entry level of soul suckers.
In both rounds, I sat behind Chris at this point just holding on for dear life. That man climbs like a monster and my HR was already pegged at 170-175 BPM with no warm up…Why no warm up you ask? Well that is because the Snake almost never begins in temperatures above the 30’s so what’s the point of a warm up?
Nothing else legendary usually happens in this section, you just set the tone for how miserably difficult the rest of the race will be.
Section 2 – The Sludge Fest
After finishing the Section 1 climb and a gravel road descent you transition from rocky terrain into pine straw covered clay with creek crossing and gulley’s. What usually stands out to me the most about this section are two to three really steep clay climbs that usually begin with no speed due to sharp entry turns. Clearing these is a must if you want to continue on well, but that is not the easiest task.
In round 1, the trail was a slosh fest of misery with all the rain from December and January. Clearing this section was not going to happen so I had to walk in defeat….foreshadowing of the remainder of my January day. In round 2 however, beast mode engaged and we climbed these bad boys like goats. Crush mode stayed engaged and we moved to Section 3.
Section 3 – The WTF Descent
I by no means wish to deter anyone from doing this race because you need to experience the epic-ness, but I will say this descent down to the halfway point causes me some trouble. In every instance that I have done this race, this is the point where Chris and I have separated…although in January of this year…Chris waited on me like a sweetheart.
The descent begins with what I believe is the worst feature of the race…3 very tight downhill switchbacks that are STEEP! I am talking, chin on your SADDLE because you are so far over the rear wheel kinds of steep. You look down at some rocks on these switchbacks and think about if your front tire were to hit that you would surely be bouncing on the ground a wee bit. GNAR!
After these switchbacks you begin a long bench cut descent that is littered with rocks and roots. It is not overly technical, but it can bite you for sure. In 2018 I had both feet come unclipped on 1 of the faster rock straights and now I take this section a little more timidly.
So for the 2019 race, once again nothing overly exciting but just a miracle to make it to the 17 mile point crossing in 1 piece.
Section 4 - The Gnasty Climb and Ridge 1
At this point in the race you have finished ½ of the distance but less than ½ of the time. After you decide to use the sag stop or not you buckle up for what defines this race…ROCKS….lots and lots of ROCKS. Leaving a parking lot where that sag is located you begin to climb about a 10-15 minute ascent up to Ridge 1. This climb is very rocky and pretty dang steep. If you drive beside this ridge the thing looks nearly vertical! So to make the climb feasible, they cut the trail in very long sweeping switchbacks.
In round 1, this section was basically a creek with standing water, but in round 2 it was perfect! I can’t say that my climbing legs are anywhere near what they have been in previous years, but I felt pretty darn strong on this ascent having already 1 hour and 20 minutes of thrashing in my legs. As I mentioned Chris and I were separated on WTF descent so I am now in solo mode.
Round 1 solo mode was a disaster of destruction where I just stayed blown up all day and endured the trail with multiple walking interruptions. Round 2 solo mode changed my mindset to focus on smooth and slow will be fast. This realization in round 2 made Ridge 1 way better!
On this Ridge you are navigating between larger rock features while constantly riding on golf ball to baseball sized rocks. The section spans roughly 4-6 miles and it is very easy to let fatigue set in and make mental mistakes. The greatest key to success here is to not over power the trail, but instead take what comes at you and reserve power for when you need to go up a punchy short climb.
When you near the end of Ridge 1 you get to descend down to the actual Snake Creek crossing and begin to the wonderland of the Pinhotti trail system.
Section 5 – 8 Miles of Rocky Hell (Ridge 2)
Leaving the creek bottom you climb up a double track road to start the final chapter of this saga. If you look at a GPS trace of this race…this portion is marked as the super sharp left turn where Satan is standing to throw rocks at you and laugh at what your next hour will be like. Ridge 2 expands upon what Ridge 1 threw at you and just ups the size of everything, sprinkles in some even longer rock gardens, adds a section called “the wall”, makes every uphill a good bit steeper, dices up some cross wind gusts, and makes sure to sharpen all the rocks to look a good bit gnarly’er.
In round 1 I came to this section a blistering mess. Chris actually waited up for me to begin this section but quickly he stampeded off in a display of complete bad assery. Meanwhile, I walked roughly 7 times, stopped for some salt supplements, hugged a tree in a crash, and generally speaking hung my hat in disappointment of how out of shape I felt. For reference, Chris opened a 6 minute gap on my over the course of 45-50 minutes.
In round 2, the script flipped. My realization here was that all the power I had needed to be used in the sections with the punchy up hills or with long drawn out rock gardens. I commonly left my gearing in the easiest cassette ring and just focused on tactfully pedaling and balancing on my bike. Maybe this strategy is obvious to some folks, but I am not proficient at riding “tech” features. I like to go Ricky Bobby fast and that’s about it…but the round 1 disappointment showed me I needed a new strategy and I really think it worked!
For the first time in 4 runs I cleared every portion of this trail other than “the wall.” That thing is just silly. With that performance, I didn’t care what my finishing time or place was because I finally overcame my own adversity against this section of Hell and that was awesome!
Bonus Section #6, Tower to Finish DH….
I promised you 5 sections, but hopefully you are uplifted by my triumph over Hell and want to know that in round 2 I was so motivated that I sprinted the crap out of any section I could on the descent to the parking lot. This descent is a little over a mile of gravel and paved roads that is just sick nasty steep. I don’t know the speeds, but I certainly felt awesome unleashing every remaining bit of energy I had until I crossed the finish!
The after party and the results =) …..
The best part of the 2019 SCGTT was that so many people from Augusta participated in the race and for round 2 my lovely wife came to hang out as well. In the finishing area, I got to watch all of my fellow CSRA folks finish and at the end enjoy a shot of whiskey and a trip to the Kro Bar for some post-race indulgences. Memories like that are what it’s all about =)
And with that I’ll leave you with my times below and hope you have enjoyed the read and want to take on similar challenges yourself! It’s a long year ahead so enjoy any trail time you get! CHEERS!
2018 Round 1
- 2nd Age Group resulting in 3rd Age Group at the finale
2018 Round 2
- DNF flat tire
2019 Round 1
- 2nd age group and I believe 5th overall
2019 Round 2
- 1st age group and 2nd overall behind stud muffin Chris Lessing…day of redemption